The Circle & The Square

This morning before Abdul ambushed me, the UK crew spoke about how this show would probably never happen. The problem is that both sides are guilty. The argument goes like this;

ATG: There’s not enough money. We can’t make the show.
Investors: You promised to make all 20 episodes for this amount of money. Make it happen.
ATG: There’s not enough money. We can’t make the show.
Investors: You promised to make all 20 episodes for this amount of money. Make it happen.
ATG: There’s not enough money. We can’t make the show.
Investors: You promised to make all 20 episodes for this amount of money. Make it happen.

And so on…

And so the point is that the show will never get made.

We did discuss three options however;

  1. The show is made as an ATG+ show – meaning slightly better than their usual rubbish.
  2. It never gets made.
  3. ATG spend $5-10 million on the pilot then hand the rest of the money back.

I agreed that the only logical option was option 3. At least then the investors might be so impressed they bankroll the rest of the show. The ATG get the rest of the money.

But Ahmed allegedly sees a fourth option. He apparently insists they can do it by hiring cheap labour from places like South Africa. Clearly he does not get that cheap labour is unskilled labour and filmmaking is a skilled job. Personally, I’m concerned about a Qatari talking about hiring cheap labour. Their track record for doing this is not great.

So the UK crew is right. Both sides are to blame.

But none of the above had anything to do with the alleged disappearance of the bulk of the money. That is another issue. And the fact that if this show had been placed into the hands of a real production company and shot in Jordan, it *would* have been possible for the money the show had.

For example, (and I figured this out months ago) the fortress set. Cost in UK = £35,000. Cost in Jordan = £7,000. One 1/5th the cost. If you follow that logic through to it’s natural conclusion, that means $40 million in Jordan is equivalent to $200,000 in the UK. Ten episodes of GAME OF THRONES costs £100 million. That’s £10 million each. Cost of one episode of MEDINAH as shot in Jordan equals $2 million which is equivalent to $10 million in the UK. In other words, if shot in Jordan, the cost per episode of MEDINAH was exactly the same as GAME OF THRONES. But we are not shooting in Jordan. We are shooting in Qatar. Why? Because the Qatari investors no longer trust ATG because Talal told Ahmed the fortress set was going to cost $250-500K!

So you can say that it is both sides fault, but we got here because of the kind of company ATG is and the kind of crook Talal is. If they had been a real production company, everything would be fine.

Ergo, Arab Telemedia Group has killed MEDINAH.

Still Nothing Happening?

Both Ray and Dominic Smithers were very unhappy yesterday.

Ray still has no props or dressing and Ibrahim still has not given the go-ahead for Ray’s man in Romania to make the weapons. And Dr Hattab (he runs a company that makes fibreglass products and we wanted him to make our shields, etc.) is not answering our emails because he is clearly fed up with ATG messing him about which means he may now refuse to make shields and stonework for us.

Dominic was furious because the woman in the UK who is supposed to be supplying us with fake corpses has not been paid despite Ibrahim promising absolutely that she would be paid last week.

And despite the fact our deal memo states we must be paid within seven days of a working week ending, we were again paid two weeks late (we got a transfer slip emailed to us last thing Thursday to show that the wages that should have entered our accounts Tuesday/Wednesday had not been paid in till Thursday so won’t be in our accounts now till next Monday). But at least we did not have to threaten them this time to be paid.

I, on the other hand, had correspondence with Ibrahim in which he suggested we meet Saturday at 2pm to start speeding up the process of getting things done and that we meet every day thereafter to maintain this. I said that was a great idea and we agreed 6pm each day starting Sunday. Currently, he is behind on getting payments made to the timber and steel companies Fozan has organised and he has not even begun to approve construction crew which we need to start on Monday.

Honestly, I just think I’ll get more bullshit. But since I’m working closely with Fozan (and they know Fozan gets things done cheaply) it’s remotely possible they’ll cooperate with me.

Even then, the UK Art Dept and Jordanian producers may not be able to work together. But if I can find a way to make the construction work, that’s good for everyone (unless ATG just uses it as a way to squeeze the construction budget to almost nil).

There’s a reason ATG’s efforts to “divide and conquer” the Art Dept have not worked so far.

  1. Their methods – as are their goals – are too transparently obvious.
  2. We’re not ATG and we don’t assume everyone can be bought and be manipulated to stab everyone else in the back – which based upon their behaviour so far, ATG seems to believe.

I don’t hate ATG. They’ve lost their contracts with NBC and Dubai, they refuse to understand that the industry is changing, that everyone wants to watch shows with “Game Of Thrones” production values now, and that screwing the budget isn’t always the easiest way to get richer. They’re the ones who will have to live with the error of their ways.

ATG’s Hidden Agenda?

It’s difficult to keep up with this blog.

Typically, a blogger may have a few things to report each week. But with ATG there’s usually an avalanche. The last week has been no exception.

Three times in the last week, I have been told the exact same thing by Anwar, Sari and Fozan; “Talal is smart. He has a mission. No-one but him and Ibrahim know what it is but it’ll be smart.”

Abdul (a pseudonym I am using to protect the identity of certain ATG employees) – as much as I have come to like him – has an ego and he cannot help but tell more. Yesterday, he told me that Talal had called him the night before and over 45 minutes had proceeded to tell him that he aims to shoot episodes 12 (with Simon as director) and 17 (with Ahmed as director) and to use episode 17 to prove how incompetent Ahmed is so that Ahmed will then be fired.

At which point, Talal will have complete control. He can then fire the English Art Dept crew, get rid of Simon the director, promote Fozan to the position of designer, and promote Anwar to the position of show director.

Abdul told me this in strictest confidence of course. He also said he told Talal that the only three people he respects in the English Art Dept are Dominic Smithers, Ray Perry and myself. Of course, none of us are HoDs, and Abdul has to say this because he can’t say I’ll get fired! But of course I know I will.

None of this is news to me though. I’ve believed for weeks that Talal is plotting to get rid of Ahmed and then he can fire us as well (Talal cannot fire us without Ahmed’s consent) and promote Fozan to designer and someone else to director.

Something else happened yesterday which only adds to my conviction that the above is true. A DoP turned up a few days ago to work on “Malik” but he found out – much to his surprise – that “Malik” already has a DoP!

I met the guy at the pub last night. He was there despite the fact “Malik” is filming because he has nothing to do! So I asked him if he’d signed ATG’s contract and he said he had.

This is the same contract we had been given and it says an ATG employee must work on any and all productions they are told to. And indeed, Ibrahim told him yesterday that he should not worry that he is not working on “Malik” because he will be doing “Medinah” soon.

The problem is that “Medinah” already has a DoP.

Larry Smith has worked with Stanley Kubrick, Nicholas Winding-Rehn, and has done some very excellent work. He got here earlier this week. And yet somehow Ibrahim is already telling this other (unknown) DoP not to worry because he’ll be doing “Medinah” soon.

Am I surprised? No.

This is the point where Simon may quit, Chris will follow, and the shoot will be thrown into chaos and Talal will come to the rescue. Will Fozan step in as designer? Maybe.

It’s possible that this is Talal’s real game-plan: force out the English crew, appoint Anwar to direct episode 12, Fozan to design the show, leave Ahmed to direct episode 17 and make sure he goes over-budget and has something unworkable, and then Talal will be perfectly justified in telling the Qatari financiers that they must give him full control and let him do it his way.

But Talal has a problem. First, as rumour has it, he has recently lost contracts with NBC and the Dubai people which will make it difficult for him to sell his most recent show (which should be a reason for him to make this show work his way all the more), and there is a substantial email and paper trail to show that his handling of “Medinah” has been less than professional.

Although Talal and Ibrahim have made it impossible for the Art Dept to realise Chris’s and Ahmed’s vision, this does not mean there is no vision.

And we can prove it. Unlike ATG, we have strived to create the show the Qatari investors are expecting in terms of scope and audience expectation and we have the ‘paper trail’ to prove it. Meanwhile, ATG are trying to squeeze it, to save money left right and centre. But why?

I come back to my point – and I’ve told Sari, Fozan, Anwar and Anthony Bluff this – $37.5 million ($45 million if you include ATG’s fee for producing a single season of the show) for 20 episodes of “Medinah” in Jordan is worth more than $100 million for 10 episodes of Game Of Thrones in the UK.

The fact is that, comparatively speaking, we have a bigger budget per episode for “Medinah” than “Game Of Thrones”, so why is it Anwar and Talal and Ibrahim are all saying there is not enough money?

Email To Ibrahim re UK CM

I sent the following email to Ibrahim this morning:-

Email To Ibrahim

I have no problem with how ATG makes shoots if what we are making is a low-budget Bedouin drama. But we are not. This is supposed to be Jordan’s and Qatar’s – in fact, the Middle East’s – biggest ever production and yet Talal insists on working as he has always done. Clearly he does not want to build any sets and this is why they do not want a UK CM. Clearly he does not want a studio/stage/workshop space to build sets in because they have never needed one before. But the budget on this show is substantially higher than anything they have done before, so what;s the problem? Why does he refuse to aspire to deliver what he is contractually obliged to deliver?

Anwar expressed concern that they do not have the money to make this show. I like Anwar – I think he’s a good man – but I do have a problem with that statement. ATP has $37.5 million to spend on 20 episodes. That’s $1.875 million per episode. “Game Of Thrones” costs $1o million per episode. Essentially five times more. But Fozan told me that our main set for episode 12, the Fortress – which would cost about $50,000 if built in the UK – could be built in Jordan for under $8,000. That’s less than 1/6th the cost of doing it in the UK! So if you assume that ATP has only 1/5 the budget but they can do things for 1/6 the cost that means that $1.875 million is equivalent to $12 million in the UK. That’s more than “Game Of Thrones”!!!

(Obviously some things won’t translate quite so easily – example: cameras costs the same amount wherever you buy them but it’s not like we need a hundred cameras – but I have been a production manager too and I know how these things work. In short, Anwar’s claim that they cannot afford to do it is wrong. The question is, why does Anwar and ATP believe this?)

The point I’m making is that I’m sceptical at this point they will allow us to have a UK CM because they will insist we do not need one. Why? Because – be it arrogance, ignorance or something else – Talal refuses to listen to his far-more-experienced-at-this-scale-of-show UK advisors. But the real question is, why won’t he listen? What is he hiding?

What is he really up to…?

Talal And Taybet Zaman

Today there was a storyboard meeting regarding “episode 12” between Simon Hunter (the director), Chris Richmond (the designer), Ahmed Al Baker (the series creator), Issam Husseini and Talal Al Awamleh. There may have been others there but it doesn’t really matter.

 It did not go well.
This is supposed to be a $50 million series and yet one suggestion by Talal – he is the CEO of Arab Telemedia Group – was for us to shoot a key sequence from episode 12 on location (rather than build a set on the backlot). Now the idea is that this sequence – set several thousand years ago – features a set of large fortress gates that are foreboding, ancient, and seemingly impenetrable (imagine something from “Game Of Thrones”). This location is meant to be one of the centre-pieces of the episode and it calls for something that looks special.
So, here’s the location that Talal proposed – complete with gates – an abandoned hotel called Taybet Zaman built just a few decades ago – and it looks like it.
Now if you’re struggling to see the gates, let me just help you…
Not quite “large fortress gates that are foreboding, ancient, and seemingly impenetrable”, are they? And yet somehow ATG thinks this is a good idea?